The Colonel, a detail from future work, by Mrinal Kaushik

‘Good that he died several years back,’ he thought.

The Colonel would have been profoundly saddened by the media’s reporting of the opprobrious behavior of his trusted protégé. Saints like him did not deserve to hear news of such obnoxious deeds by those he trusted. An overwhelming tide of sadness swept over him away momentarily in imagining the Colonel, with his reassuring looks, yelling he was there to take care of everything, to keep everything in place, even though he was no longer alive.

The Colonel’s demise left behind a hiatus never to be filled. Sadness gave way to reprieve in thinking that for all his good deeds, the poor one-legged man had not needed to clamber agonizingly toward death. He felt satisfied in being able to repay at least a part of what he owed his mentor through facilitating the means for a painless death and in that The Colonel had become, appropriately, more like a falling star. The esophageal cancer had made even sips of water for him so difficult in the last few days and he had been too good of a person and already had suffered so heroically to deserve living in needless agony.

It had required some degree of research to zero in on the method at the time. After elaborate consideration of variables involved, including duration of dying and amount of pain, lethal injection, the Chapman protocol, was chosen. Death would occur in an anesthetized state, a distinct advantage over asphyxiation, electrocution or decapitation.

As a child, he had already used the method of beheading to allay the suffering of an extremely dear companion. However, his idea to guide Betsy into peaceful, eternal sleep and put an end to her agony had not been altogether satisfying. He had chopped off her head with a single sharp blow. The poor little thing had stared at him for those few seconds afterward, as if to ask, ‘Why?’ and he had thought she failed to understand the pain he had suffering in putting an end to her existence, his oldest and dearest acquaintance at the orphanage, one in whom he had sought reassurance and company in times of profound loneliness and desolation. She had purred while reclining on his lap, as he stroked her lovingly for the last time, the farewell for him. He had already made up his mind he could no longer bear to watch her limp on the incorrigibly fractured leg. Betsy’s looks of anguish in those days suggested something closer to her saying, “I am being cheated.”

He had extensively reviewed the literature of decapitation and the guillotine, and in doing so learned the brain used oxygen inside the head for a few seconds more, after supply from the heart had been severed; and in so doing, generated electrical signals. He pondered Betsy’s thoughts during those final moments but was satisfied by all he had done to bring relief from her agony in the sheer struggle of survival on three limbs. He eventually concluded she must have understood his motive after all.

He did not want the Colonel to be thinking or experience anything of that ilk after his painless death, as had been described in that same literature. He did not wish for an encore to the tale of Charlotte Corday, beheaded during the French revolution, her severed head responding to a slap from the executioner, as her eyes had continued to glare disgustingly at him. Nor did he wish to exert multiple blows upon the Colonel; or conceivably, for his head to fall upon the ground with him holding it by the wig, as in the tale of Mary I of Scotland. Despite the strong rebuttals to this concept of a “still thinking brain” after severance, there emerged postulations the post decapitation head movements were simply due to reflex muscle contraction. Yet as nothing could be proven, he could not afford to risk the Colonel experiencing anything of the sort. Decapitation was a definite ‘No’.

The barbiturate component of the cocktail, thiopental, ensured the Colonel be asleep before the pancuronium induced paralysis and then, the potassium chloride induced cardiac arrest. This brought the quiet and blissful cessation to suffering. As he sat by the Colonel’s side, he observed the faint smile on his face. The soldier had laughed all his life, often cracking jokes on issues of his own disability. And here he was, at the moment of his own death, grinning. His protégé knew only because his vocal cords had been paralyzed by pancuronium that he could he not let out an audible laugh; the same soldier who had kept on fighting at Kargil despite his leg being blown off, fighting until reinforcements had arrived quite sometime later. The Colonel would have never consented to go down meekly to disease, certainly not to a widely metastasized and untreatable form of cancer. The act possessed all the merits of voluntary euthanasia except for the fact the Colonel had neither asked for it, nor had his protégé informed him of his intent before administration . . .

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